(All Album Reviews by Chuck AzEee!)
The mythical Belgian RIO (Rock-In-Opposition) group Univers Zero is strange contradictory band that is often hard to describe, as the RIO stereotype suggest, Univers Zero is more of a "electric" chamber band, but yet like Miles Davis with his explorations during the mid Sixties, Univers Zero backbeats betray a hint of rock without the constraints of abiding by the 4/4 Chuck Berry rule.
Univers Zero's third album Ceux Du Dehors is very much the brainchild of drummer/percussion virtuoso Daniel Denis, who like Christian Vander, dominate the band without letting their virtuosity take over.
Some of the Univers Zero's most revered songs are present on Ceux De Dehors, the phenomenal opening track, "Dense" is reminiscent of the style Robert Fripp envisioned for King Crimson circa Islands and Larks’ Toungue, the powerful "Combat" and the driving "Les Triomphe Des Mouches".
The rest of Ceux Du Dehors follows the same "modern classical" suit, but the electronics are more present than the band's previous two albums, that there is a welcome sight, as for the electronics never truly overpower the music, and the ambient almost orchestral washes fills in admirably along with the multi tracked reeds.
One of the unsung innovators of the progressive movement, Univers Zero's Ceux Du Dehors is a highly recommended opus for fans that appreciate music that is more in tune with classical music than it is rock.
Of the many bands affiliated with the Rock In Opposition movement of European avant-garde (here I speak just of those bands who joined the movement at some point or another), Univers Zero is by far my favorite, which is really saying something, because Etron Fou Leloublan, Henry Cow, and Samla Mammas Manna/Zamla Mammaz Manna are all brilliant beyond belief. Univers Zero, however, takes their music to the next level. I own/have heard five Univers Zero albums, and each one earns at least a B (excellent) from me, with three of them earning A’s (masterpiece). That’s not something many bands can say (Magma and CAN are the only two I can think of that are on that level).
I think the greatest reason for Univers Zero’s success is their diversity. Every album differs from the next in some way, such that every album feels original and worthwhile. That is exactly the case with Ceux Du Dehors, Univers Zero’s third studio album. It came off the back of two stellar albums, particularly Heresie, which makes my top ten albums of all time. While it would be foolish in the extreme to expect Ceux Du Dehors to match Heresie, Univers Zero very nearly managed it. They did this, not by honing the sound of Heresie, but by modifying their approach slightly, shortening the compositions and adding a bit more of a “rock”-y edge to it. Thus, while Heresie plowed resolutely forward, working its way around while giving you a chance to enjoy the scenery, Ceux Du Dehors takes you on a roller coaster ride of darkness, where it’s over before you know it, but you can’t wait for it to begin again.
That’s not to say that dark, gripping atmospheres of Heresie are missing here, it merely serves to indicate that Univers Zero found a new way of exploiting those atmospheres to create something unique and unforgettable. And, let’s face it, this album truly is unforgettable. Right from the opening “Dense,” we are sucked into a bumpy boat ride through the waters of Hell, where the unexpected is commonplace. “Dense” is the highlight of the album alongside it’s brother, “Combat,” another track of roughly the same length and style. Both contain some of the darkest passages you will ever hear in their slower sections, while they really let it rip in the faster ones. Thankfully, every other track on the album is just as good as those two long songs. “La Corne Du Bois Des Pendus” operates around a haunting violin line with Denis’ steady drumming holding everything together marvelously. He may not seem to be doing much in that he’s not banging away as fast as he can at whatever he can reach, but without him the music would completely fall apart. The remaining four tracks are all stellar examples of short Univers Zero pieces, serving similar purposes as the three big songs, just shorter. All of them are very good songs, but one of them, “La Musique D’erich Zann,” is weaker than the other three. This track is an improvisation, and, much as I like improvisations, I have to say that Univers Zero did not possess the knack for it that some bands did. Clearly, however, they weren’t completely at a loss, as it’s still a great song.
The making of this album was not without its hardships. After the release of Heresie, Roger Trigaux (guitar) left the band on amicable terms to form his own project, Present. Daniel Denis and other Univers Zero members played on Present’s first two albums, but what is more important is that they succeeded in continuing the great legacy of Univers Zero. To replace Trigaux, Univers Zero placed keyboards and strings closer to the front, a move which helped create the stellar atmosphere on this album. Ceux Du Dehors is a brilliant piece of music that belongs in every music collection, prog or not, avant or not. It is a masterpiece of music and deserves to be recognized as such. Following Ceux Du Dehors came Uzed, another A (masterpiece) album, the last of the set of three. Sandwiched between Heresie and Uzed, Ceux Du Dehors stands its ground as one of Univers Zero’s best releases. Some would even go so far as to claim it as their absolute best. Wherever it stands in their repertoire, it belongs in your collection NOW. A (masterpiece)!!